GRANTVILLE, Pa. — When Zach Larson organized a statewide tour of grain fields in August, he was upbeat about the prospects for this year’s harvest.
Then an incredibly rainy growing season got even rainier, and his hopes began to flag.
“This should have been a good year,” said Larson, a Penn State Extension educator based in western Pennsylvania.
Larson talked about what has changed since the crop tour last week at the Keystone Crops and Soils Conference at the Holiday Inn Harrisburg.
The warning signs from the heavy rainfall were present during the crop tour, which brought groups of Extension educators and industry reps to corn and soybean fields in every corner of the state.
Corn maturity, nitrogen levels and yield estimates were highly variable, and gray leaf spot was present.
Still, Larson saw potential for good yields. Projections in some southeastern Pennsylvania fields topped 200 bushels per acre.
But then there was rain for 22 of the 42 days after the crop tour.
“It was wet and would not dry out,” Larson said.
Warm weather lingered into October, so while the plants were shutting down, “the diseases were quite happy,” Larson said.
By harvest time, ears were getting moldy and starting to sprout — time to downgrade yield expectations.
“This hits that adage: ‘It’s not certain until it’s in the bin,’ ” Larson said. “Things were looking pretty good, but there was still time for things to go wrong.”
The story was similar with soybeans, with tour participants turning up frogeye leaf spot and brown spot — the “normal suite of diseases,” Larson said.
Some soybeans also started sprouting in the pod, something tour participants would not have anticipated, Larson said.
Some parts of Pennsylvania have received 40 inches of rain since May. That’s unusually high, but it’s a reminder of the importance of disease management, said Paul Esker, a Penn State field crop pathologist.
A hybrid with genetic resistance to diseases combined with a good scouting program give the crop the best shot.
It may help to document what is happening throughout the growing season to build a strategy for future years, Esker said.
Farmers who are unsure of their disease diagnosis should send a sample to Esker’s lab.